Sir Milo of Locksley

You’ve all heard what Milo wrote to the journalists who were pressing him for comment about a restaurant he is said to frequent in New York and his recent decision to join UKIP.

You have also heard about how Davis Richardson at The New York Observer and Will Sommer at The Daily Beast reported his comment as an actual incitement to violence.

And you have heard about how PayPal and Venmo closed his accounts after some 250,000 tweets accused him of being responsible for the deaths of five journalists thanks to the headline that The New York Observer ran on Richardson’s article about his comment.

“Dear Milo Yiannopoulos,” the PayPal service bot wrote,
We have recently reviewed your usage of PayPal’s services, as reflected in our records. Due to the nature of your activities, we have chosen to discontinue service to you in accordance with PayPal’s User Agreement. As a result, we have placed a permanent limitation on your account. 
Translation: You are now outside the law. Certainly, that is what many of those who tweeted about Milo’s comment thought.
Looks like Milo Yiannopoulos got his fucked up wish. Throw his ass in jail. —Scott Dworkin @funder
This cannot be overstated on any day, but especially today. Milo Yiannopoulos is a terrorist. — The Sassiest Semite @LittleMissLizz
Hey Milo Yiannopoulos—two days ago you called for “gunning journalists down.” Today it happened. Enjoy prison. —Palmer Report @PalmerReport
Arrest Milo. He’s as responsible as the shooter. —Teddy Brewster @whatdidyoutwit
If the Capital Gazette shooter turns out to be a fan of Milo Y, an arrest warrant should be issued for that asshole by the end of the day. Then arrest the president. —iResist @ThomboyD
I swear to goddess that if what that piece of shit Milo Yiannopoulos said about gunning down journalists led directly to today’s shooting in Annapolis, I will be relentless in lobbying my elected officials to have Yiannopoulos charged with inciting terrorism. —Paula @PaulaBonaFide 
It’s ok to demonize Donald Trump and Milo Yiannopoulos because they are demons. —Roland Scahill @rolandscahill 
The response from the conservative media was hardly better.
Milo’s shooting comment confirms it’s time conservatives rid ourselves of him for good. —Cillian Zeal, The Conservative Tribune
And yet, mysteriously, Milo’s fans—including myself—stuck by him. I wonder why that would be.

For one, because we know he is innocent. The shooting had nothing to do with his comment—and his comment was never intended as incitement to anything other than laughter at the stupidity and venality of the press.

But also because we know what story we are in—and it isn’t the one that the media—liberal or conservative—would have you believe.

We are, after all, Americans. At least, many of us are. (Waves to readers in the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—and everyone else who lives under the tradition of English common law!) We know who the hero of the story is—and it isn’t the ones who are calling for the head of the outlaw who has done nothing but stand up to the tyranny of the king.

I taught a course this past spring on “Medieval England,” the first such course I have taught in my career. My previous courses have tended to focus on questions of culture (e.g. war, travel, monasticism, scriptural exegesis, liturgy, animals, cities and towns—syllabi here), but with this course—or so I thought—I wanted to focus on questions of nation-building, history, government, and law, above all to help myself understand what all the fuss was about when pundits bang on about our political and legal tradition.

Perhaps I should not have been surprised to discover that law is itself a question of culture, almost as gripping as religion and God!

What did it mean to be “English” in the so-called “Middle Ages”? This was the question I posed to the class at the outset of the quarter. By the end of the term, we had learned some of the things that it most certainly did not mean, most importantly, that it was not about “race” in the sense in which that term in used now.

In the Middle Ages (roughly, from the departure of the Roman legions in A.D. 407 to the defeat of Richard III in A.D. 1485), being “English” was as complicated—and yet straightforward—as being “American” is today. Britons, Angles, Saxons, Danes, Normans: all thought of themselves as “English,” their identity based not on race, but rather on the land where they lived, the language they spoke, and the laws under which they recognized their king.

Even the eleventh-century King of England, Denmark, Norway, and “part of Sweden” Cnut—conqueror though he was—realized that he could not rule England solely by force of arms. As he wrote to the English people from Rome, where he had gone “to pray for the forgiveness of my sins, and for the welfare of my dominions, and the people under my rule” (and, by the by, to attend the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II):
Be it known therefore to all of you, that I have humbly vowed to almighty God himself henceforth to amend my life in all respects, and to rule the kingdoms and the people subject to me with justice and clemency, giving equitable judgments in all matters; and if, through the intemperance of youth or negligence, I have hitherto exceeded the bounds of justice and clemency, giving equitable judgments in all matters: and if, through the intemperance of youth or negligence, I have hitherto exceeded the bounds of justice in any of my acts, I intend by God’s aid to make an entire change for the better. 
I therefore adjure and command my counselors to whom I have entrusted the affairs of my kingdom, that henceforth they neither commit themselves, nor suffer to prevail, any sort of injustice throughout my dominions, either from fear of me, or from favor to any powerful person. 
I also command all sheriffs and magistrates throughout my whole kingdom, as they value my regard and their own safety, that they do no unjust violence to any man, rich or poor, but that all, high and low, rich or poor, shall enjoy alike impartial law; from which they are never to deviate, either on account of royal favor, respect of person in the great, or for the sake of amassing money wrongfully, for I have no need to accumulate wealth by iniquitous exaction.
Fancy that! A king promising to rule with “justice and clemency,” cautioning his counselors not to engage in graft or currying favor, and commanding his sheriffs and magistrates to administer the law impartially, without regard for social status or wealth! It sounds like a fairy tale, say, The Return of the King!

Nor did the Normans, bastards that they were, find it any easier to rule the English with castles rather than courts of law. The Peterborough Abbey chronicler recorded that William the Conqueror made
good peace...in this land, so that a man of any account might go over his kingdom unhurt with his bosom full of gold. No man dared slay another, no matter how much evil he had done to the other; and if any peasant had sex with a woman against her will, he soon lost the limb that he played with. 
William’s son Henry I specifically promised at his coronation to do away “with all the evil customs by which the realm of England was unjustly oppressed,” which he then listed so that everyone would know to hold him to account. King John was just one in a series of kings to be brought to heel for his usurpation of the law and customs by which the English expected a king to be bound. And when Parliament deemed Edward II “incompetent to govern in person,” they did so on the basis that he had not willed to do “the justice to all” to which he had been bound by the oath that he made at his coronation.

Likewise, Richard II. As the Articles for his deposition put it:
16. Also, the king refused to keep and defend the just laws and customs of the realm, but according to the whim of his desire he wanted to do whatever appealed to his wishes. Sometimes—and often when the laws of the realm had been declared and expressed to him by the justices and others of his council and he should have done justice to those who sought it according to those laws—he said expressly, with harsh and determined looks, that the laws were in his own mouth, sometimes he said that they were in his breast, and that he alone could change or establish the laws of his realm. And deceived by this idea, he would not allow justice to be done...
Kings of other realms, say, France, might have deemed themselves above the law, but the kings of England were kings only so long as they kept it.

How much the stranger, therefore, is it that one of the great national heroes of the English should be someone living outside the law? Except, of course, in the stories, that is not the reason that he is the hero.
The daylight had dawned upon the glades of the oak forest. The green boughs glittered with all their pearls of dew. The hind led her fawn from the covert of high fern to the more open walks of the greenwood, and no huntsman was there to watch or intercept the stately hart, as he paced at the head of the antler’d herd. 
The outlaws were all assembled around the Trysting-tree in the Harthill-walk, where they had spent the night in refreshing themselves after the fatigues of the siege, some with wine, some with slumber, many with hearing and recounting the events of the day, and computing the heaps of plunder which their success had placed at the disposal of their Chief. 
The spoils were indeed very large; for, notwithstanding that much was consumed, a great deal of plate, rich armour, and splendid clothing, had been secured by the exertions of the dauntless outlaws, who could be appalled by no danger when such rewards were in view.  
Yet so strict were the laws of their society, that no one ventured to appropriate any part of the booty, which was brought into one common mass, to be at the disposal of their leader.
This is the version that most Americans know, thanks to the romantic invention of Sir Walter Scott. The scene is the forest where Robin of Locksley and his men have gathered after rescuing the Lady Rowena and her father Cedric from the clutches of the Normans De Tracy and Front-de-Boeuf. Outlaws to Prince John and his henchmen they may be, but (as Scott tells it) they are true Englishmen and so live, even in the greenwood, according to the law.

Thus, when they come to divide up the spoils they have taken from Torquilstone Castle, they do so not like thieves, but as men living under the law that the king, if he were truly king, would himself observe:
Locksley now proceeded to the distribution of the spoil, which he performed with the most laudable impartiality. 
A tenth part of the whole was set apart for the church, and for pious uses; a portion was next allotted to a sort of public treasury; a part was assigned to the widows and children of those who had fallen, or to be expended in masses for the souls of such as had left no surviving family. 
The rest was divided amongst the outlaws, according to their rank and merit, and the judgment of the Chief, on all such doubtful questions as occurred, was delivered with great shrewdness, and received with absolute submission. 
The Black Knight was not a little surprised to find that men, in a state so lawless, were nevertheless among themselves so regularly and equitably governed, and all that he observed added to his opinion of the justice and judgment of their leader.
The media has spent the past two years doing its best to cast Milo as the villain in our national morality play, whether for mocking celebrities on Twitter, telling the truth about his own adolescence, singing America the Beautiful in a karaoke bar where he couldn’t see what others were doing, or making jokes about how much everyone in the country hates journalists for lying to them.

But we, his fans, know that they are lying to us, if nothing else thanks to the lies that they tell about Milo.

Over and over and over again.

Even when they say that they are going to give him the chance to publish his own version of events, they string him along—and then balk.

Our national elites in journalism, academia, Hollywood, and politics may fancy themselves champions of the poor and oppressed, but all of us who voted for Trump know that they are not to be trusted to do anything but lie in order to preserve the status to which they have become accustomed as arbiters of the realm. Just like Prince John while his brother King Richard was imprisoned—and even if Richard (a.k.a. the Black Knight) was not the great king Walter Scott would have us believe.

Milo, on the other hand, says things like, “No more dead babies,” and refuses to bend.

Do you really wonder why we, his fans, have stood by him as our Chief?


Reference: Medieval England 500-1500: A Reader, ed. Emilie Amt and Katherine Allen Smith, Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures VI (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018).

See The MILO Chronicles for the continuing adventures of the fabulous fool and his ursine jongleur.

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